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Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Want a more personalized experience? Try virtual reality!

December 3, 2020 · 1 Comment · Technology, Uncategorized

Want a more personalized experience? Try virtual reality!


Virtual Reality (VR) refers to a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. The application of VR is majorly seen in entertainment, sports, education, and the gaming industry, significantly. What makes VR so interesting is its ability to enable people using it to experience the artificial world up close, and experience and interact with its elements, almost providing them with a real experience.

Despite the maximum application of VR in the sports and gaming industry, it is an equally valuable resource in the field of healthcare. The most important application of VR in the field of global health comes in the form of a learning experience with the use of VR, especially learning about countries or remote locations, otherwise not accessible to everyone.  

“Virtual Reality: Advancing Public Health with New Technologies” published in de Beaumont describes an experience where attendees of the American Public Health Association got a chance to test the VR headset. The users viewed scenes such as an urban community block, an apartment, a school cafeteria, and a residential neighborhood to better understand how social determinants of health such as access to housing, transportation, healthy food, and safe neighborhood influence the health of an individual.

On a related note, VR can also be used to study the living conditions, health choices, and built environment across the globe and across all socio-economic classes. The above-mentioned article talks about how VR can be used to elicit strong emotions. Experiencing something in real life is always a better teacher than reading about the same or watching videos or pictures about the same. According to the National Wellness Network’s “Effective Use of Virtual Reality for Public Health Education”, VR helped students from a mixed-ethnicity, student exchange program, understand and tackle the challenges faced by Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The Lebanese students captured 360-degree view videos to allow the users to have a more personalized experience.  Another vital example of the application of VR in remote learning is the work Dr. Swahn has done through the CAVE program in Kampala.

A critical global health concern in the present times is the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Institute of Health’s Significant applications of virtual reality for COVID-19 pandemic”, there are 4 main areas through which global healthcare can be made more proficient, namely, through medical training, patient treatment, medical marketing, and disease awareness. Virtual Reality plays a big part in these areas. VR is extremely beneficial in providing the medical staff simulated training for all complex procedures, almost as similar to real patient experiences as possible. Additionally, VR also helps not only in staff training but also provides patient education. In times such as the current, where in-person meetings are extremely limited, VR provides a more personalized experience to the patients. Thus, VR improves accessibility and the quality of patient care delivered, especially, in times of a pandemic.

Another important application of VR is training to respond to global disasters such as the one we are facing currently. As Forbes describes in “10 Ways VR Will Change Life In The Near Future”, emergency situations like natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and global pandemics are hard to respond to, but training for the same by the use of simulated reality is helpful for the emergency responders. One of the biggest global health burden in the present times is a chronic disease, lifestyle, and lack of physical activity is the most crucial contributing factors for the same. One of the main reasons people do not involve themselves in any form of physical activity or exercise is the lack of motivation for the same. This is where VR comes in handy. The use of VR to create scenery on stationary bikes and treadmills will encourage people to be more involved in physical activity.

Furthermore, when all in-person learning is suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, virtual learning could further be enhanced by the use of virtual reality. Providing examples and real-life experiences in real-time to students, stuck at home, helps them learn trends of diseases or health conditions and the reason behind such health choices. Instead of traveling around to remote locations, students can obtain personalized learning at home.

Virtual reality and its use in the field of public health has more extraordinary benefits. However, it does not come without its limitations. First and foremost, while VR can elicit stronger responses, feelings of empathy, and more personalized experiences for the user, it can also lead to increased anxiety and stress. Certain visuals and graphics can elicit stronger than desired responses, leading to anxiety. Also, because VR itself involves haptic and audio-visual senses, it might interfere with the real-time and space association of the user, causing nausea and dizziness. Hence, it is always advisable to take breaks while using VR headsets. Additionally, VR technology is not cost-effective for several low-and middle-income countries and rural centers. Hence, monetization is an issue that needs to be investigated as well.

To sum up, VR is a vital emerging technology, not only for entertainment or sports or gaming industry, but global health as well. It does come with a few limitations, which when resolved, will encourage the smooth running of the VR technology and will call for increased involvement of VR in the field of global health and education.



One Comment

  • ktroka1

    I really enjoyed reading to this blog, and I learned a lot of information which I did not know before about Virtual Reality. I like how you wrote “Experiencing something in real life is always a better teacher than reading about the same or watching videos or pictures about the same” I totally agree with it. I believe we learn better by throwing ourselves out there, and by gaining experiences.

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